It is commonplace for judges to award joint custody to the parents. They do this because family experts believe it is in the best interests of the children to have both parents active in their lives. However, in honor of May being Mental Health month, we thought it was timely to discuss how issues of addiction, depression, bipolar disorder or other illnesses can impact child custody.
It is best to address the issue
A spouse may think that it is smart if they keep their illness a secret until after the divorce is finalized, but this is a mistake. An inability to care for oneself or the children is a red flag for the judge as well as the other spouse, and it can lead to a parent being deemed unfit. Moreover, the priority of all involved should be the welfare of the children, regardless of whether the parent is ill or not.
Getting the help needed
The ill parent is better off getting the help they need immediately. Not only is this better for their health and that of the family, but it will also show the judge and ex-spouse that the parent is being proactive about treatment and finding solutions. The details of the treatment should be shared with both the lawyer and the judge. Important information to include:
- Are the children at risk?
- What are the treatment protocols?
- Does the treatment have negative side-effects?
Partial custody may still be an option
As long as the children are safe, judges tend to give parents the benefit of the doubt if steps are taken using counseling or medication. The award may come with a court order of treatment, evaluation or stipulation, but the goal is achievable.
Making the right decision
Both parents should be prepared to joint custody even under these circumstances, but the ill parent needs to take stock and recognize whether they are up for the life’s work of raising a family. Perhaps they need to address their illness before tackling the challenges of parenthood.
Diagnosis of mental illness is common, and knowledgeable family law attorneys come across it in their work. They can work with the ill parent or the other spouse to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of the entire family.